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Spearheading Sustainability in Stamford: The Green Wheel by David Taylor

In this new series, we've asked independent experts from a variety of backgrounds about their vision for a sustainable Stamford. For our first article, David Taylor explains how his concept for The Green Wheel is coming to life, and how it will get people out of their cars, to walk and cycle around the town.

I like to think of myself as an optimist, but at times it is hard to remain so when it seems the entire world is in crisis. There's not one, but many. There's the climate crisis, the cost-of-living crisis and the housing crisis. These are just three examples of the challenges we all face. But I am still optimistic because I also believe that with knowledge, passion and determination we can overcome many of the obstacles in our way. That's particularly true when it comes to tackling the problems in our own back yard. If we look hard enough and work together, I believe there are solutions within our own community which will make our world a better place to live.

I don't think my optimism is misplaced. In my current role with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, one of the most exciting elements of the work the charity does is looking at the opportunities for carbon capture. I also know from previous work I have done with other environmental charities, such as the Woodland Trust and Buglife, that there are solutions to problems. But sometimes those solutions require an open mind. We just need to embrace them to get things done.

It is not always straightforward. I have worked on the front line of local politics, both at South Kesteven District Council and on Stamford Town Council, where I was also Mayor between 2023 and 2024. Politics, particularly at a local level, can be frustrating when self-interest, ignorance or a simple lack of ambition means there is no drive to make change. But in spite of this experience, I do have faith that we can make a difference. One of the issues I am passionate about is sustainable transport and this has been driven by the issue of ever-growing traffic volumes in my hometown of Stamford.

Stamford's streets were originally designed for horse and carriage, the historic George Hotel in the heart of the town and one of the country's most famous coaching inns, bears testament to this. The picturesque streets have provided a wonderful backdrop for numerous TV dramas and films, but they cannot cater for the number of vehicles they are now expected to deal with. With almost a quarter of all car journeys being less than one mile and a large proportion of Stamfordians living within a 15-minute walk of the centre, active travel, meaning walking or cycling, should be the norm for most of us.

But there is a problem which involves all of us, so we are also part of the solution. Three-quarters of walkable trips within Stamford are made by car. We should all endeavour to play our part in reducing this for the benefit of our health and environment.

Of course, sometimes leaving the car at home is not an option, but often, given travel time into town, and the need to find parking, most of the time it is.

Rather than just campaigning for active travel, I decided that we needed to offer something to encourage people to move around under their own steam. During the pandemic, in the first lockdown, I came up with the idea of the Green Wheel, a project to build easily accessible and safer walking and cycling routes in and around Stamford.

The primary problem the Green Wheel will solve is congestion. But then there are the additional benefits that active transport bring. As well as tackling climate change, they also help address the obesity epidemic and growing mental health crisis, with the additional burden to our health services that these issues bring.

I set up a community group called Connect Stamford and worked with partners Burghley Estates, South Kesteven District Council, and the Charity Sustrans to make the dream of the Green Wheel a reality. We created a plan and came to an agreement with landowners, developers and councils to start creating the Green Wheel, with a view to completing it in five years.

The eight-mile route which will run around the outskirts of the town, will modify existing paths and create new ones, crossing land belonging to Burghley, and other areas which have been earmarked for new building development projects.

Most of Stamford's Green Wheel will be built as new infrastructure, based on existing footpaths and bridleways where possible.

The route which will accommodate both walkers and cyclists will have 'spokes' from the centre of Stamford developed over time, to include additional footpaths and cycleways within the wheel. This will create safer links both in Stamford and out to Ryhall, Tinwell, Casterton, Uffington, Easton, Collyweston and Rutland Water.

What I realised from the conception of the idea is that no single group can achieve something like this. Whilst the planning stage required input from councils and landowners, the actual delivery needs investment. There are grants available, but public money is insufficient to realise our ambition. So, that's where the new developments come in. It may seem strange to be including developers in such a project and you might think that the term 'sustainable development' is an oxymoron.

However, it is in everyone's interest to create areas and infrastructure where communities can grow and thrive. That is the philosophy that those behind Stamford North are bringing to their plans for the development of around 1,300 homes on the northern edge of the town. It's understandable that projects like this are often greeted with suspicion, but it is only by engaging with those involved in the planning, that we have the greatest chance of influencing decisions and arriving at an outcome which will benefit the whole town.

As well as providing a significant financial investment in the creation of the Green Wheel, Stamford North's master developers are also looking at sustainable transport hubs for scooter or bike hire, new bus routes, and creating green spaces for leisure activity. Becoming partners with those who have the finance in place to be able to create the infrastructure we all need, means that we also have influence over what is provided.

Another developer, Linden Homes, which is building Stamford Gardens on the Uffington Road, is involved in constructing another section of the Green Wheel that will run alongside the new homes. This is another example of sustainable development that I believe will truly benefit our town - long into the future. A prosperous town, however historic, needs modern infrastructure if it is to thrive, prosper and ultimately be preserved for future generations. More towns should embrace infrastructure projects that benefit the whole community. When we see what can actually be achieved in partnership with sustainable development, it should make us all a little more optimistic about the future.

David Taylor is the former Mayor of Stamford and also served as a Town Councillor. He currently works for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.